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Aldermanic race to restore the 20th Ward

The 20th Ward aldermanic race is coming to a close and residents as well as candidates are hoping to break a disturbing trend in the ward.

The last three aldermen in the ward have been indicted and two of them have served time in prison. That includes current Ald. Willie Cochran who has been charged with wire fraud, bribery, and extortion. Expectations for the next alderman are high and residents are ready for a change of pace and authority for the ward.

There are currently nine candidates running, more than any other aldermanic race in the city of Chicago: Jeanette Taylor, Nicole Johnson, Maya Hodari, Jennifer Maddox, Andre Smith, Dernard Newell, Quandra Speights, Kevin Bailey and Anthony Driver Jr.

“Some residents are looking closely at the current state of aldermanic candidates to make sure that the tendency towards corruption is rooted out at the ballot box,” said Naomi Davis, activist and founder of Blacks in Green organization, a national network for advancing “green‐village‐building based in West Woodlawn.”

The organization focuses on sustainability, economic development and land stewardship in African-American communities.

The 20th ward embodies much of Woodlawn and reaches west towards parts of Englewood, Washington Park and the Back of the Yards. The effects on the communities that make up the 20th ward have been prevalent, especially within the Woodlawn area.

Davis said that the history of corruption has come from the past alderman’s lack of involvement with residents in the community. The problems that the ward has been facing are rooted in the fact that developments and projects do not go through community review, but are given a thumbs up or thumbs down by aldermen before they continue through the process. This has been an issue in the mayoral election as well.

“No one should go from zero to CEO in a community without an outstanding record of service to the community,” said Davis.

The community has seen a large number of displacement due to several University of Chicago-developments, the Barack Obama Presidential Center and the Norfolk Southern railroad development.

The Barack Obama Presidential Center will be located in Jackson Park, just east of the Woodlawn community. Some residents worry that because of the ward’s current state that the community will not have the resources to provide the library, which will hold up the process of development. The Obama Foundation is opposed to a Community Benefits Agreement, which would guarantee the community’s involvement in developmental projects.

Another development, Norfolk Southern railroad, displaced families and homes after being given a large amount of city land.

“Residents received nothing in return,” said Delmarie Cobb, campaign manager for 20th ward aldermanic candidate Nicole Johnson. “It’s important for these candidates to work with the community closely.”

Cobb said that the candidates have to focus on rebuilding the trust that has been lost between the ward and its residents. They have to let the community know that they are there for the right reasons and are as invested in the ward as the residents are.

The displacement in the community, especially in black neighborhoods, has made residents anxious because they do not know what is going to happen next.

When candidate Nicole Johnson first moved into her office on South Halsted, she discovered that there was no internet in the building and half of the households in the ward. There was a Smart Report done in 2000 that said those communities would receive the infrastructure needed to be brought up to speed with the rest of the ward but nothing was done until this year, 19 years later.

“[We] can only hope that after this election the pieces will be put in place and some of the South Side can start to prosper,” said Cobb.

Candis Castillo, the campaign manager for Jeanette Taylor, said the key characteristic for the candidates in the 20th ward is to bring the community along with [them] and not wait around until after elections to make a difference.

In the past the aldermanic face of the 20th Ward failed to connect with residents on a personal level and include them in any decisions being made. Castillo said the reactions from residents when Taylor showed up at their door to discuss issues with them was of great shock.

The major issues brought up in the Ward are affordable housing –– prices are already going up for residents due to developments like the Obama library –– a lack of well-paying jobs, training for those jobs and grocery stores.

“Most people agree that once the job opportunities go up, the violence goes down,” said Castillo.

Castillo said that for too long the communities within the 20th ward have been labeled as the “bad part” of the city, but it hasn’t been given the chance to grow and develop properly.

Castillo has personally had family live in the 20th ward since the 1920s.

“[We] want to see the 20th ward restored to the glory it was at one point,” said Castillo.

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